Teens Need to Know They Matter
At our core, everyone wants to feel that they matter. People want to know they are important in some way or make a difference to someone. They want to belong.
In an ideal world, this sense of belonging and importance is first created within a family. Parents instill self-worth in their children by demonstrating that the child is important to them, and they build a family culture where each member feels accepted. Having a family to which we belong gives us the courage to explore the wider world.
Unfortunately, many children grow up in families where this foundation is not present. For many different reasons and circumstances, sometimes parents do not, or are not able to, provide a sense of belonging or communicate that the child matters.
When a child does not feel that they matter or that they belong, they will try to fill that void either through escaping the pain or obtaining belonging in some other way. This is one of the ways that destructive behaviors occur in adolescence. Teens NEED belonging and a sense of self-worth so much, they will engage in risky behaviors to get it. A teen who desperately wants to belong may join a gang to find a surrogate family or engage in sexual activity to feel wanted. A teen who feels worthless may try to escape that pain by getting drunk or high. Desperate actions arise from desperation.
The good news is that, whether you are a parent, a teacher, a coach, a mentor, or a community member, you can work to let children know they are important. If you are a parent, you can actively work to build a relationship with your teen that demonstrates you think your child is valuable. Every child wants their parent’s approval. If you are someone who works with youth, such as a teacher or coach, you can demonstrate to your students that you believe in their potential and that each one of them has the ability to improve the world. All of us have the opportunity to build a teen’s self-worth by letting them know you see, hear, understand, and value them.
How can we convey to children that they matter?
There are many ways that adults can express a child’s value, but here are a few ideas:
- When you see a teen you know, express warmth and delight. Greet them with a smile, show enjoyment at seeing them, and invite them to talk or join you in an activity.
- Find moments and times to give the teen your undivided attention. Listen to what they have to say without judgment or criticism. Ask lots of questions to show interest and gain understanding of them as a person.
- Make it clear you have ambitions for their future. Tell the teen you believe they will make a positive difference in their community.
- Tell stories and memories about them because teens know we remember the things that are significant to us.
- Follow through on any promises you make in order to demonstrate they can trust you.
- When they fail to live up to your expectations, demonstrate continued acceptance and love. Let them know you believe the teen can learn from their mistake and make better decisions in the future.
You may never know the difference your time will make in a young person’s life, but it could be your actions that make a teen feel loved enough to avoid the gang or say no to drugs. Encouraging the youth around us, expressing a belief in their abilities, and valuing their uniqueness will go a long way towards creating a future generation of hopeful leaders.